Little Red Lie (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Little Red Lie (2017)

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What was the last lie you told?  Mine was, "I'm okay."  Combination of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and codependence made it difficult to discuss the chronic kidney stones, bleeding hemorrhoids, ulcer, and bizarre issue where ear wax coated my sinuses (don't ask for an elaboration, my doctor sure as heck didn't have any suggestions.)  I was clearly not okay, hence the lie, but is there a sincerity in my commitment to make sure no one was burdened by my problems that made it true?

These are the kinds of questions I asked about myself, and the characters, of Will O'Neill's Little Red Lie.  It's the first videogame I've touched that gave me a cognitive headache trying to piece together what each of the characters lies about.  These aren't simple lies, like when my mom used to tell me, "Don't sit so close to the television or you'll go blind."  The two main characters, Arthur Fox and Sarah Stone, lie about themselves, their surroundings, the people in their lives - just about everything there is to lie about, they will at some point.Therein lay the beginnings of my headache.  Whichever character I control moves to different objects, or people, in the environment and I receive prompts to lie about different things.  This makes understanding the world of Little Red Lie complicated when there is no lie in the text, usually when Arthur or Sarah flatly describes an object.  So I enter the cognitive labyrinth, asking if the prompt about lying itself a lie (as reinforced by the red text), if a lie is a lie based on information yet to come or feelings concealed from me as a player, wondering if something is really a lie because of differing perceptions of information...and on and on and on.

My headache got so bad I needed a way of visualizing the dialogue separate from the red text and groaning loop of the soundtrack.  Dusting off my old sentence diagramming skills, I started to parse out the presumptive lies indicated by the red text and the rest of the words.  Arthur's lies spiral out while commonly puffing up his perception of himself, Sarah's are footnotes of emotion to her observations, and Sarah's sister - in one of the few times I got to play as someone else - lies with Arthur's volume if not his confidence.  Then there's the lie told by Sarah's father, his only lie, and the moment I began turning against O'Neill's vision.

He promises not to carry Sarah's mother, who is dying, up the stairs.  Thing is, this isn't a lie, there isn't a point where Sarah's father physically lifts Sarah's mother.  In fact, Sarah's mother knows that he's helping her, so is a mutually agreed-upon story about help really a lie?  That's precisely when the veil fell. I realized I wasn't experiencing encounters between characters so much as O'Neill's commentary on their role and actions in society.

Consider how every single woman in Little Red Lie is reliant on men for support.  Sarah, her mother and sister, all rely on her father.  Sarah's best friend has a terrible husband nonetheless responsible for her well-being, and Arthur abuses all the women in his life because he's an absolute monster to women lacking alternatives.  Arthur's monstrous actions lead to one of the few moments in Little Red Lie where society is accurately critiqued and my role as a player is nauseatingly clear.  To advance, I had to help Arthur cover up his rape of an assistant.  It's a terrifying sequence with the victim vomiting constantly on the soundtrack, Arthur's movements blurred a bit in the darkness, and he considers each avenue to hide what happened.  O'Neill said Arthur was a Donald Trump or Rob Ford character, but Arthur's media power and attempts to make it all look consensual put him more in the Harvey Weinstein camp.That part is effective by showing power, specifically the entrenched power men wield, in action.  The rest is sexist garbage.  O'Neill chose to write helpless women, and the one moment of honesty through lies doesn't make up for his reductive view on women who stream games on the internet, try to make a professional life for themselves, or simply need good healthcare.  These aren't accurate criticisms of anything, as capitalism isn't lacking in horrific women exercising their power to hurt others or more sympathetic women trying to make their lives bearable within the contradictions of capitalism.

Then there's the matter of an absurd Islamophobic swindling conspiracy that reveals itself late in Little Red Lie.  There's no salvaging this, as either O'Neill uses an oppressed minority to yell the equivalent of, "There are starving children in Africa" to similarly suffering people, or is reinforcing a belief that brown-skinned Islamic peoples immigrate to make life worse for those poor helpless white women.  O'Neill's appropriation of immigrant struggles highlights the ultimate hypocrisy of Little Red Lie, it's not nihilistic, it's one white man yelling at the rest of us through people who face struggles he may hear about but will never personally experience.Little Red Lie is the antithesis of empathy cloaked in failed critique about the lies we tell to make life bearable.  At that point, they're not lies, they're coping mechanisms so that we can get up to face the next day.  The appropriation of immigrant struggles is the culmination of a presumably well-meaning attempt to highlight how terrible we treat one another.  Instead of critique O'Neill ends at mere reflection.

All that said, I've already purchased O'Neill's Actual SunlightLittle Red Lie dredged up feelings through an experience so uncompromising that the pain and nausea I felt playing it was often accurately reflected onscreen.  I know I'm playing something developed by an exceptional artist, one that might work better reflecting on his own struggles than appropriating those who have it worse.

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Posted by Andrew

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